The Top Ten in Europe. Chapter 5: Spain



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week we reveal the Top Ten bids in Spain: evidence of a market that has slackened considerably.

The Top Ten in Europe. Chapter 5: Spain
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Juan GRIS $3,365,844 Le violon (1914) 1990-03-22 Edmund Peel MADRID
2 Hermenegildo ANGLADA CAMARASA $3,312,660 El Casino de Pars (1900) 2006-10-04 Christie’s MADRID
3 Dom. Theotokopoulos GRECO EL $2,632,355 El Expolio 1991-10-30 Edmund Peel MADRID
4 MICHELANGELO $2,052,000 A man seated in profile, Reading 2014-01-28 Subastas Galileo MADRID
5 Joaquín SOROLLA Y BASTIDA $2,021,838 Francisqueta, figura de pescadora valenciana 1990-11-22 Edmund Peel MADRID
6 Joaquín SOROLLA Y BASTIDA $1,893,287 La vuelta de la pesca (1908) 1990-03-22 Edmund Peel MADRID
7 Luis MELENDEZ $1,518,333 Percide, cebollas, harra/Bodegon : carne, huevos, toma (1778) 1991-10-29 Edmund Peel MADRID
8 Miquel BARCELO $1,401,510 Bibliotheque avec Poe (1983) 2006-10-04 Christie’s MADRID
9 Dom. Theotokopoulos GRECO EL $1,264,050 San Lucas (c.1600-1614) 2005-10-05 Christie’s MADRID
10 Dom. Theotokopoulos GRECO EL $1,049,400 Santiago el Mayor (c.1600-1614) 2005-10-05 Christie’s MADRID
copyright © 2014

The Spanish art market is in dire straits, and needs a real shot in the arm. With a severe, seemingly endless economic crisis, VAT on art works that has soared to 21% (despite the drop a few months ago to 10% for artists, and compared with 10% in France and Italy, 7% in Germany and 6% in Belgium), and a dearth of high-end works, the Spanish art market is experiencing a profound crisis that goes against the tide of records being set in today’s art market.

Half the prices in this Top Ten show that Spain is far from returning to the levels it commanded in the early Nineties. If only it could. Five of the best bids go back to the 1990-1991 period, when the Spanish record was set by Juan GRISLe Violon: a large historical collage from 1914 that took the top Spanish price to $3.36 million. But in France the artist’s record is $4.36 million (Le Violon, 1913, Christie’s Paris & Pierre Bergé sale of 23 February 2009) and in London, a spanking $50.7 million (Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux, Christie’s, 4 February 2014).

The Spanish market is still rooted in its blue-chip values: Old Masters, together with the 18th and 19th centuries, remain the best represented periods of art in the high-end market. We cannot talk about Spanish Old Masters without mentioning Domenikos Theotokopoulos, aka El Greco, who, despite his Greek nationality, occupies a prime position in the history of Hispanic art. Of his 35 paintings auctioned since 1991, four were sold in Spain and three feature in this Top Ten.However, the rarity and prestige of a name like El Greco’s are not enough for Old Master aficionados. Pictures have to be impeccable in terms of quality, subject, provenance and condition in order to achieve six or seven figures. Furthermore, the paintings that are the most expensive and attract the most media coverage are only the tip of the iceberg. The salerooms are full of Old Masters by unknown or unidentified artists, with many a “school of” or “circle of”. For instance, a work by Luis Tristan – an exceptional pupil of El Greco, but far less well-known than his master – was available for around $45,000 on 21 November 2012 in Seville (a majestic portrait of St Peter at prayer, San Pedro at Arte y Joyas). Yet it failed to sell.In early 2014, it was not an El Greco, but a drawing by Michelangelo that came onto the Spanish market. Nevertheless, this rarity only achieved its low estimate of $2,052,000 (A man seated in profile, Reading at Subastas Galileo, Madrid). This little charcoal masterpiece would certainly have fetched one or two million more had it been sold in London.

The lethargy of the Spanish market is also due to the weakness of 20th and 21st century art. Apart from Le Violon by Juan Gris, Miquel Barcelo’s Bibliotheque avec Poe (1983) is the only “recent” work to have passed the million mark. And yet there are plenty of globally renowned Spanish artists: what about Pablo Gargallo, Julio Gonzales, Edouard Chillida, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Antonio Saura and Edouardo Arroyo? The Spanish market could draw much nourishment from these names, but their most important works are sent off for sale elsewhere.

This fragile market, which has been shaky for several years now, has seen intentions to buy largely evaporate because of the economic crisis, the lack of liquidity and the general climate of uncertainty. At the same time, the offer is diminishing because the Spanish marketplace is not conducive to top price sales: any collector looking to part with a major work under the best possible conditions will turn to Paris, London or New York rather than Madrid. And Spain’s high VAT is also to blame for the sluggish rate of transactions.